Monthly Archives: January 2012

Fear and Hiding in Las Vegas

Vegas baby! Everybody goes, including nerds. It’s a rite of passage, and even if you don’t win real, useful money, you end up with that irreplaceable cash known as shared experience.

When someone inevitably asks, “Have you ever been to Vegas?” you’ll finally be able to nod knowingly. Oh yes. I have. No further discussion required, because what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. Unless, of course, you’re friends with me and I post it all over the internet!

———

It was the last finals week of our college career. Six of us decided that rather than study for our tests, we’d put the Bachelor in Bachelor’s Degree, so we booked tickets to the city of sin.

Of course, our ragtag fellowship of truants consisted of me, three computer science majors, and two pre-med kids—not really the best at things like partying, gambling, or meeting girls. Still, we figured we should have one more go at the “college experience” everyone was always talking about.

We should have known better. The CS trio kept determining the odds of every casino game, discouraging us from throwing money at the whims of chance. If we ever happened upon some more exotic form of entertainment like, say, cocaine, the pre-med duo would sit us down and explain the negative repercussions of casual drug use and we’d avoid it entirely. Ah, knowledge, the destroyer of fun. There’s nothing worse in life than those moments when you learn the truth, like realizing Pixar movies are physically unsound or the uncomfortable conversation you have when you find out a stork didn’t drop you on your parents’ doorstep.

So, in this fashion, we meandered through Vegas, wondering what there was to do that wasn’t detrimental to our bodies or finances. Fortunately, as an artist, I can’t be controlled by logic or self-preservation, so one night I buy a yardlong, which is actually a yard long and has something like 12 shots of surgical alcohol in it.

My friends keep trying to drink it to save me from myself, but like an alcoholic Gollum, I become protective of my precious treasure and distrustful of their intentions. Defeated by my obsession, they break down and buy variously themed oversized drinks of their own.

After some unsteady shambling down the strip, we find ourselves in a Hooters, which is about the most debauched activity we can talk ourselves into. There will be girls there! We sit down and a waiter comes over to take our order. That’s “Waiter.” Turns out all the servers are men and the women are in some different part of the restaurant, completely out of view!

While we wait for our food, we compensate for our lack of hooters by browsing the stripper ads the street-side barkers had handed us, zealously debating whether Angel is hotter than Chastity, how much she’d charge, and what strippers actually do, having no real experience in the matter. Nerds that we are, we turn it into a game, in which each stripper has attack power derived from the number of stars covering her body, and a strength/weakness chart based on hair color or ethnicity.

After one particularly bawdy comment, the man sitting in the booth next to us turns and says very seriously, “Hey guys. Look, my wife, daughter, and I are just trying to have a nice meal. Do you think you could cut the stripper talk for like 10 minutes until we leave?”

Shame swallows us up and we mumble profuse apologies, then get to wondering why someone would bring his family to a Hooters in the first place. In hope of a nice meal? To avoid overhearing drunken guys talking? Maybe he thought it was a family-friendly, owl-themed eatery.

Deprived the fulfillment of our carnal desires, and having consumed another couple pints worth of rum and cokes, we decide it’s time for some actual sin. One of us calls up a stripper service on the way back to the hotel, and before we can register what’s happened, we’re told by the operator that two lovely ladies will arrive at our room in half an hour.

None of us has ever actually seen a stripper before, and at least one of us has never even seen a real live naked female of any occupation, so this is a giant leap forward for our nerdy group.

We get back to the room, and the excitement of our impending, naked Bar Mitzvah quickly wears off. Time passes. Bored, we switch on the TV and find an episode of Pokemon. This invokes group-wide nostalgia for a childhood we might soon lose, and the sobering wave of regret washes over us. After all, Misty had always been more than enough woman for our middle-school level fantasies. Would we now discard her for some card-stock charlatan?

An hour goes by, and one of us falls asleep, lulled into the world of dreams by Jigglypuff’s soothing song.

Displeased, we call the friendly stripper establishment, whose secretary says the girls got caught in traffic (it’s now 4 in the morning, but who knows what traffic is like in Vegas? Not us!).

Another hour passes, and with it, another person. By this point we’re all tired, and nobody really thinks this is a good idea anymore, so I call up the lady to cancel. At the mention of the word, the bubbly girl morphs into a Hyde-ian version of herself like a lycanthropic lust-monger, swearing by the gods of compulsory nudity that we will pay the two hundred dollars whether we like it or not, so do we want it to go to waste, or do we want to quote: “see some titties?”

Plus, like the punch-line to a bad horror movie, the girls are already inside the building!

My friend grabs the phone, insists we’re cancelling, and hangs up, but the lupine threats have sunk their teeth into our impressionable gray matter, and the indelible and primal fear of strippers sets in.

We awaken the two sleeping friends and herd them into the corner farthest from the door, then switch off all the lights, never letting our voices rise above a whisper. I never thought I’d find myself hiding from strippers, but life isn’t always predictable, and here I was.

A few minutes pass and we realize how ridiculous we’re being. Strippers aren’t so scary, even with  those strange and elusive lady parts. Our bravest member convinces us that the danger is all in our minds and gets up to turn on the lights. He walks to the switch, but just as he’s about to flip it, there’s a knock on the door!

He freezes, and we hear the two girls talking indistinctly just beyond the threshold. Suddenly, the room phone starts ringing.

“Nobody answer,” I whisper, and everyone nods their consent.

“Oh crap!” whispers a friend. “They have my cell number, and if it rings, they’ll know I’m here!”

But his cell phone is across the room.

“You can’t go over there!” one of my friends whisper-shouts. “It’s too dangerous.”

“I have to do this,” says the owner, stoically.

“Let me come with you,” I say.

“No. I won’t risk you too. I’m going on my own.” He starts to army crawl toward the table near the door. We watch with bated breath, worried that the strippers will see a shadow under the door or use some stripper powers to otherwise detect him.

But he makes it to the phone and back. Like modern day Anne Franks, we huddle in fear as the hotel phone rings again and again…In hushed tones, I make the Anne Frank metaphor and all of my friends tell me I’m a terrible person. The door shudders under the force of the strippers’ plastic-surgery enhanced limbs, and we shudder in nervous unison.

———

The strippers finally departed in frustration, leaving us free to watch more Pokemon.

We lived the rest of the trip in a constant state of fear, sure that the girls’ pimp would come to beat the money out of us with his pimp fists. Every time we left the room, we’d use an elaborate series of mirrors to ensure that the hallway was clear, then sneak out as if we were an elite force of commandos.

Even though we may not have ended up with strippers, we did go to an over-the-top, vampire-themed, topless rock opera filled with magic tricks, dance, and aerial acrobatics, a show that perfectly combined our nerdy love of vampires with just enough depravity that we felt like we’d really accomplished some growing up.

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Food of Dubious Origins

Food is my one true love, and I am accepting of all its forms, whether it be moldy, partially consumed by a stranger, or, as the title suggests, of dubious origins. My friends have referred to me as ‘the garbage disposal’; ‘trash compactor’; and ‘a relentless, insatiable, gaping maw that demands constant sacrifice’. When I go out to dinner in a group, I don’t order anything; instead, I salivate as my friends scarf their foodstuffs in hurried discomfort. But they are weak and their portions large, and they always end up leaving their delicious (and completely free) scraps as offerings for my all-controlling stomach of steel.

Heavier than a falling anvil! More elastic than a drawstring laundry bag!

Nothing fazes my mithril-lined esophagus. I rip the mold off cheese with my teeth, then swallow it; I put brown bananas into my smoothies, then drink them; and if meat smells rotten, I just wash it off until the offending odor is masked, and if that’s not enough, I simply stop inhaling through my nose.

I inherited these traits from my father, whose circus-strength stomach allows him to digest anything soluble in stomach acid, no matter how expired. As a bargain hunter, nothing brings him more joy than the reduced-for-quick-sale section at the supermarket. The fewer hours of shelf life a store item has left, the cheaper it is, so he treks to the grocery store minutes before closing time, scoring discolored meat and wilted spinach for a fraction of the original price.

As his offspring, I was constantly subjected to these expired triumphs, and rarely experienced a dinner untouched by the twin seasonings of freezer burn and decomposition. I think my father was trying to forge my stomach into a food chamber as impervious as his, and for the most part, it worked.

Even if I do sometimes come down with a case of excruciating stomach pain, my mind remains steadfast, addicted to the rush that comes with avoiding waste, no matter the consequences. Nothing parallels the taste of environmentalism that comes with every bite you take to save an abandoned morsel from the dumpster.

At restaurants, I am so disgusted at the wanton squandering of perfectly good food that I sometimes sneak scraps off the tables of strangers before the waiter can throw away that last bite of steak or half-glass of wine. I revel in my delicious, planet-saving ways, always to the horror of my dates, who, for a reason I can’t quite put my finger on, never return my calls.


While this example is of course eminently reasonable, sometimes my attempts to save food go just a little bit too far. I know, I know, you’d think there’s no such thing as too far when it comes to this, but believe me when I say it’s happened.

Like last summer, when half a burrito appeared in our fridge following a week of drunken revelry. Thanks to the haze of our collective memory, no one could pinpoint where it had come from, and despite our Holmesian powers of deduction, further inspection gave us little insight. We were unable to determine even the ingredients, for they’d all faded to a uniform shade of grey. Naturally, the only option left was for me to use the tried and true Taste Test. I heated up the sucker and took a bite—

SON OF AN UNDEAD SKUNK it was terrible! I’d never tasted such disgusting meat, if it could still be called ‘meat’.

But I’m a glutton for attention as well as food, so I announced my findings loudly to the group, complaining with what I considered entertaining zeal…and then took another bite—HOLY MOTHER OF MOLD it was just as bad as I remembered. And yet I took another bite…and another, loudly lamenting my fate the entire time, until finally the whole thing was gone.

I was had just enough time to lift my arms into a celebratory first pump before my stomach contracted in violent spasms. That night was spent mostly moaning and rolling around on the floor.

——–

Better was that time I woke up and walked into the backyard to observe the glory of the morning, where much to my surprise I happened upon a giant vat of chili sitting on the porch. That was the most glorious morning of all. There was no telling how long it had been sitting there beneath the beating sun, and the manner of its arrival was similarly mysterious. Was it perhaps left by an assassin who was aware of my inability to resist unexplained food?

And how long had it been baking in the heat, turning from delicious bean-meat to disgusting heat-rot?

These were the thoughts that didn’t once cross my mind as I began to devour it with abandon. It was as delicious as any unexplained porch chili I’d ever tasted. Whatever poisons the recipe had called for obviously didn’t affect the flavor or consistency.

——–

Probably my family’s crowning achievement in the world of questionable food preservation was our pilfering of what became known to all our friends as the “trash burgers.” You see, at the end of my high school baseball season, one of my rich teammates’ families threw a party. It was an extravagant affair, riddled with a lavish assortment of buns, condiments, and chips, and they spared no expense on the mostly-beef hot dogs and the Costco burger patties. They grilled literally hundreds of burgers, an unmanageable number by anyone’s standards. The 14 of us and our assorted family members did what we could to dent the meatacopia, but we were no match for the half-cow of beef that lay before us.

As the party drew to a close, it became clear that at least 70 burgers would go uneaten, but before clan Nickel could react, the party-thrower dumped them all in the trash in an act of pure apathy! By god, man! What were you thinking?! There will be starving children at the Nickel household in oh, 8 or 10 hours!

Seeing those perfectly good patties tumble with finality into that unforgiving germ canister was one of the worst moments of my life, or was at least slightly disheartening.

I was younger then, and less resolute, so I merely mourned the loss, trading hope for less effective tears. But my dad, he’s a man of action. He called me to his side, and together we analyzed the physics of the trash can. It quickly became clear that with such a quantity of burgers, it was impossible for all of them to touch actual trash. We rejoiced, seeing to our delight that a good 40% of the burgers were protected on all sides by a buffer layer of more burgers!

Not caring who judged us, we proceeded to pluck every unsoiled patty from its doom and stack them onto a series of plates. We feasted on those burgers for weeks and weeks, tasting joy in every rescued bite.

We’re humanitarians of the highest degree—that’s what I say.

Man, all this talk of food is making me hungry. If only I had something to eat. Wait a second! I’m pretty sure I have some sushi leftover from last week! Excuse me, would you?

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